The Illness Lesson

The Illness Lesson

Book - 2020
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Sarah Waters meets Red Clocks in this searing novel, set at an all-girl school in 19th century Massachusetts, which probes the timeless question: who gets to control a woman's body and why. The year is 1871. In Ashwell, Massachusetts, at the farm of Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, a mysterious flock of red birds descends. Samuel, whose fame as a philosopher has waned in recent years, takes the birds' appearance as an omen that the time is ripe for his newest venture. He will start a school for young women, guiding their intellectual development as he has so carefully guided his daughter's. Despite Caroline's misgivings, Samuel's vision--revolutionary, as always; noble, as always; full of holes, as always--takes shape. It's not long before the students begin to manifest bizarre symptoms. Rashes, fits, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. In desperation, the school turns to the ministering of a sinister physician--based on a real historic treatment--just as Caroline's body, too, begins its betrayal. As the girls' conditions worsens, long-buried secrets emerge, and Caroline must confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities around her, the ones who insist the voices of the sufferers are unreliable. In order to save herself, Caroline may have to destroy everything she's ever known. Written in intensely vivid prose and brimming with psychological insight, The Illness Lesson is a powerful exploration of women's bodies, women's minds, and the time-honored tradition of doubting both.
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, [2020]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2020
ISBN: 9780385544665
Branch Call Number: F BEA
Characteristics: 271 pages ; 25 cm


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Apr 19, 2020

Beam’s novel is an authentic voice of what the Transcendentalist movement. Were the ideals of progressive feminism just before their time or were they, as this novel seems to point to, the idea that women should be allowed to have a voice up to a certain point. Women were looked at as having an intellect but still their highest goal was to be married and have children. Other than Jo March in Little Women, I’ve never heard a voice as strong as the story told from Catherine’s point of view. An excellent book to read, particularly if you, like me, have questioned the idealism of the male Transcendentalists as they failed to let go of male power.


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